WASHINGTON (AP) - Four years after a powerful earthquake devastated Haiti, President Barack Obama on Thursday praised the rebound taking place in the impoverished Caribbean nation but said there is more work to be done. He pledged that America will remain a partner in that process.
At the start of his first official meeting with Haitian President Michel Martelly, Obama also said he was encouraged by progress Haiti has taken to remove "political roadblocks" to holding legislative and local elections that are two years overdue.
Obama said the "good news" is that because of U.S. and other aid that flowed to Haiti after the January 2010 earthquake, along with Martelly's leadership and the will of the Haitian people, "we've begun to see progress." The 7.0 earthquake, centered just west of the capital of Port-au-Prince, killed an estimated 300,000 people and left 1.5 million others without permanent homes.
"The economy is growing. Security is improving. Infrastructure is getting rebuilt. Rubble has been removed," Obama said from the Oval Office as he and Martelly sat side by side in separate chairs. "Health facilities are beginning to open up. Schools are starting to get back into place, and businesses are starting to return to Haiti."
"It's been a very slow and difficult process, and I think we are all recognizing that we have a lot more work to do," Obama added. "But my main message today to the president and to the people of Haiti is that the American people are committed to standing with you in this process."
Obama said he also was encouraged by progress on legislation that could clear the way for the elections by helping to "resolve some of the political roadblocks that have stalled some progress in the country."
Martelly's government recently took an important step toward organizing the balloting with the publication in December of an election law that eased infighting between Martelly and members of parliament.
The executive director of Haiti's electoral council expects this month to announce a date for the elections. Martelly's government has appointed some 140 people to local posts in the absence of balloting.
Martelly said he wanted to discuss security issues in Haiti and the broader region, efforts to combat drug trafficking and his desire to build a strong democracy. Besides thanking Obama and the American people for their post-earthquake support, Martelly separately thanked Michelle Obama. The first lady and Vice President Joe Biden's wife, Jill, visited Haiti a few months after the disaster.
Associated Press writer Trenton Daniel in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, contributed to this report.
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